Oakland County Health Division offers at-home flu shots for seniors

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published November 10, 2020

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OAKLAND COUNTY — Beverly Hills resident Marilyn Ferber, 87, who has been homebound, especially since the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, couldn’t fathom having to leave her house this year to receive an influenza vaccination.

Luckily for her, she didn’t have to.

The Oakland County Health Division has launched a new program to provide homebound residents 65 years and older with flu vaccinations at their homes, to help reduce the risk elderly residents have of contracting either virus.

“I’ll tell you, I’m a big sissy, and I don’t like shots to begin with,” Ferber said, “But this nurse was amazing. It was so helpful to me to have her come inside my house and sit down and give (the shot) to me. It made my family feel good that I had the shot, and I didn’t have to figure out how to somehow get dressed and get out of the house.”

As county health officials begin to prepare for what they say may be a third wave of increasing COVID-19 cases, they said they are doing everything they can to protect the county’s most vulnerable population.

“Getting a flu shot is more important than ever this year, with both influenza and COVID-19 present in our communities,” County Executive David Coulter said during a Facebook live video Oct. 29. “Flu- and COVID-related deaths in our community mirror national trends reported by the (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). The federal agency estimates between 70%-85% of seasonal flu-related deaths (annually) have occurred in people 65 years and older. This age group also has the most flu-related hospitalizations. In Oakland County, seniors, especially those 70 (years old) and up, have made up the most of our COVID-related deaths. It is critical they’re protected.”

According to Nov. 5 COVID-19 data totals, Oakland County has recorded 23,893 confirmed cases and 1,195 deaths. Of those, residents 60 years and older made up for 6,874, or 28%, of the confirmed cases and 1,098, or 91%, of the deaths.

The risk of deaths for seniors who contract the coronavirus already raises alarm. Those rates will only get worse if someone becomes co-infected.

“Flu vaccination is very important this year to help reduce respiratory illnesses and avoid overwhelming the health care system. Research is suggesting that the risk of death may double in those 60 years and older if they are infected with both flu and COVID-19,” Dr. Russell Faust, the medical director for the Oakland County Health Division, said in a statement. “Wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice physical distancing not only to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also flu.”

Faust said those mitigation factors we’ve been practicing for COVID-19 can also help reduce the risk of spreading the flu. He said that may be one factor as to why he’s seen low flu activity so far.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Flu Focus Report dated Nov. 6, influenza like illness activity in Michigan is “minimal,” and is below baseline. Currently it is at  0.4%, which is below a baseline of 1.9% that is set for non-flu weeks.

“It would be great if we have a low flu season. That would be awesome if everybody wears masks, maintains their distances and washes their hands,” he said, “but I just don’t know yet. What I haven’t seen yet is a co-infection. We’ve seen some flu cases, but so far so good.”

Flu vaccines are not only for seniors. As this pandemic has taught us, younger residents taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from the flu could ultimately benefit their loved ones and the community. Fewer flu infections would mean fewer hospitalizations as well, leaving frontline workers with more space for what health officials are predicting will be another busy time for hospitals dealing with COVID-19.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Nov. 6 that nearly 2.4 million state residents had gotten flu vaccination already, putting the state more than halfway to its goal to have 4.2 million residents vaccinated this flu season.

During the 2019-2020 season, the United States recorded an estimated 39 million-56 million cases of the flu, 18 million-26 million medical visits for the flu, and nearly a half million hospitalizations.

Senior at-home flu vaccinations are available by appointment only, and can be made by calling the Health Division’s nurse on call at (800) 848-5533. Medicare, Medicaid, most Blue Cross Blue Shield and Blue Care Network plans, and additional insurances can be used as payment. No one will be denied a vaccination because they lack insurance. The county offers a discounted, sliding fee payment schedule for residents who need it.

Regular flu vaccines cost $24 per person, or $54 for a senior-citizen dosage. Coulter said most insurance plans will cover the vaccination at no cost to the resident.

For more information, visit oakgov.com/health or call the Health Division’s flu hotline at (800) 434-3358. To find a flu vaccine location near you, visit michigan.gov/flu.